What Is Gotu Kola?

Asian herb may improve circulation, mood, and wound healing

Gotu kola (Centella asiatica) is a type of leafy plant traditionally used in Asian cuisines that also has a long history of use in both traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurvedic medicine. It is a perennial plant indigenous to the tropical wetlands of Southeast Asia, where it is commonly used as a juice, tea, or green leafy vegetable. 

Gotu kola has been used for antimicrobial, antidiabetic, anti-inflammatory, antidepressant, and memory-enhancing properties. It is widely sold as a dietary supplement in capsule, powder, tincture, and topical formulations.

Centella asiatica morning dew
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Gotu kola is also known as marsh penny and Indian pennywort. In traditional Chinese medicine, it is referred to as ji xue sao and, in Ayurvedic medicine, as brahmi.

What Is Gotu Kola Used For?

Among alternative practitioners, gotu kola is believed to have many potential health benefits, ranging from the treatment of infections, such as shingles, to the prevention of Alzheimer's disease, blood clots, and even pregnancy.

Some assert that gotu kola can help with anxiety, asthma, depression, diabetes, diarrhea, fatigue, indigestion, and stomach ulcers.

When used topically, gotu kola may help speed the healing of wounds and reduce the appearance of stretch marks and scars.

Here is what some of the current clinical evidence says:

Mood and Memory

Gotu kola has long been used as an herbal tonic to treat mood disorders and enhance memory. Although research results are mixed, there is evidence of some direct and indirect benefits.

A 2017 review of studies published in Scientific Reports found little evidence that gotu kola directly improves cognition or memory, although it appeared to promote alertness and relieve anxiety within an hour of consumption.

Gotu kola may regulate the activity of neurotransmitters known as gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). Asiatic acid is the compound in gotu kola believed to trigger this effect.

By influencing how GABA is absorbed by the brain, asiatic acid may be able to relieve anxiety without the sedative effect of traditional GABA agonist drugs like Ambien (zolpidem) and barbiturates. It may also play a role in treating depression, insomnia, and chronic fatigue.

Blood Circulation

There is some evidence that gotu kola can improve blood circulation in people with chronic venous insufficiency (CVI). Venous insufficiency is a condition that occurs when the walls and/or valves in the leg veins are not working effectively, making blood return to the heart inefficient.

A 2013 review of studies from Malaysia concluded that older people treated with gotu kola showed significant improvement in CVI symptoms, including leg heaviness, pain, and edema (swelling due to fluid and inflammation).

These effects are believed to be linked to chemical compounds known as triterpenes, which stimulate the production of cardiac glycosides. Cardiac glycosides are organic compounds that increase the force of the heart and increase the rate of the heart's contractions.

There is some evidence that gotu kola may stabilize fatty plaques in blood vessels, preventing them from breaking off and causing a heart attack or stroke .

Wound Healing

Herbalists have long used gotu kola poultices and ointments to aid in wound healing. The current body of evidence suggests that a type of triterpene, known as asiaticoside, is able to stimulate collagen production and promote the development of new blood vessels (angiogenesis) at the injury site.

Disease Prevention

Claims that gotu kola can treat diseases such as leprosy and cancer are largely exaggerated. But there is some evidence suggesting that further research may be warranted.

  • Gotu kola is known to have potent antioxidant effects, neutralizing many of the free radicals that cause cell damage at the molecular level. It has been theorized that these properties may provide protection against stomach ulcers and certain cancers.
  • Asiatic acid, found in gotu kola, has been shown to induce apoptosis (spontaneous cell death) and inhibit cell growth activity in certain types of cancer cells, including liver, breast, skin, brain, and gastrointestinal tumor cells.

Further research would be needed to substantiate these effects.

Nutritional Facts

In Southeast Asia, gotu kola is used as much for food as for medicinal purposes. A member of the parsley family, gotu kola is a good source of essential vitamins and minerals needed to maintain optimal health.

According to a review in the International Food Research Journal, 100 grams of fresh gotu kola delivers the following nutrients and meets the following recommended dietary intake (RDI) needs:

  • Calcium: 171 milligrams (17% of the RDI)
  • Iron: 5.6 milligrams (31% of the RDI)
  • Potassium: 391 milligrams (11% of the RDI)
  • Vitamin A: 442 micrograms (49% of the RDI)
  • Vitamin C: 48.5 milligrams (81% of the RDI)
  • Vitamin B2: 0.19 milligrams (9% of the RDI)

Gotu kola is also a good source of dietary fiber, providing 8 percent of the RDI for women and 5 percent of the RDI for men.

Selection, Preparation, and Storage

Gotu kola is a key ingredient in many Indian, Indonesian, Malaysian, Vietnamese, and Thai dishes. It has a distinctive sweet and bitter flavor and a slight grassy scent. Gotu kola is a central ingredient of one of Sri Lanka's most popular dishes, gotu kola sambol, which combines shredded gotu kola leaves with shallots, lime juice, chili, and grated coconut.

It is also used to make Indian curries, Vietnamese vegetable rolls, and a Malaysian salad called pegaga. Fresh gotu kola can also be juiced and mixed with water and sugar to create the Vietnamese beverage nuoc rau ma.

Fresh Gotu Kola

Fresh gotu kola is difficult to find in the United States outside of specialty ethnic grocers. When purchased, the lily pad-shaped leaves should have a bright green color without any blemishes or discoloration. The stems are edible and similar to cilantro.

Fresh gotu kola is temperature-sensitive and can quickly turn black if your refrigerator is too cold. If not used immediately, you can place the herbs in a glass of water, cover with a plastic bag, and refrigerate. Fresh gotu kola can keep this way for up to a week.

If chopped or juiced, gotu kola should be used immediately, as it can quickly oxidize and turn black.

Gotu Kola Supplements

Gotu kola supplements are available in most health food stores and shops that specialize in herbal remedies. Gotu kola can be taken in capsule, tincture, powdered, or tea form. Ointments containing gotu kola are available to treat wounds and other skin problems.

Possible Side Effects

Although side effects are rare, some people taking gotu kola may experience upset stomach, headache, and drowsiness. Because gotu kola can increase your sensitivity to the sun, it's important to limit your sun exposure and use sunscreen whenever outdoors.

Precautions

Gotu kola is metabolized by the liver. If you have liver disease, it is best to avoid gotu kola supplements to prevent further injury or damage. Long-term use may also induce liver toxicity.

Due to the lack of research, gotu kola supplements should be avoided in children, pregnant women, and nursing mothers. It is not known what other drugs gotu kola may interact with.

Drug Interactions

Also, be aware that gotu kola's calming effect may be amplified when taking sedatives or alcohol. Avoid taking gotu kola with Ambien (zolpidem), Ativan (lorazepam), Donnatal (phenobarbital), Klonopin (clonazepam), or other sedatives, as this can lead to extreme drowsiness.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do you take a gotu kola supplement?

    There are no guidelines as to the appropriate use of gotu kola for medicinal purposes. Due to the risk of liver injury, the supplements are intended for short-term use only.

    If you're considering taking a gotu kola or medicinal purposes, speak with your healthcare provider first. Self-treating a condition and avoiding standard care may have serious consequences.

  • What should I look for when buying a gotu kola supplement?

    Dietary supplements are not required to undergo the rigorous research and testing that pharmaceutical drugs do. Because of this, the quality can vary significantly. While many vitamin manufacturers will voluntarily submit their products for testing by an independent certifying body like the U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP). herbal remedy manufacturers rarely do.

    With respect to gotu kola, the plant is known to absorb heavy metals or toxins in the soil or water in which it was grown. This poses a health risk given the lack of safety testing, particularly with regard to imported traditional Chinese remedies.

    To ensure quality and safety, only buy supplements from a reputable producer whose brand name you recognize. If a product is labeled organic, check that the certifying body is registered with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

9 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Cathy Wong
Cathy Wong is a nutritionist and wellness expert. Her work is regularly featured in media such as First For Women, Woman's World, and Natural Health.